Instagram Models: Nothing But Trouble?

Culture of Care | Kaitlyn Beck | November 9, 2015

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What happens when someone spends the majority of their life striving for a certain amount of “likes” on an edited photograph? 19 year old Essena O’Neill opened up about the truth behind her Instagram and social media fame. With over 500,000 followers on Instagram and other social media websites, O’Neill is adored for her photos, receiving instant gratification and praise. However, O’Neill is showing her followers and fans that her life isn’t as glamorous as it’s portrayed through social media.


Before deleting her account all together, O’Neill deleted more than half of her Instagram pictures and re-captioned the ones she left up. Changing her account name to, ”Social Media is Not Real Life,” her outburst shocked followers. Photos that once displayed a model-skinny, smiling girl are now re-captioned to “THERE IS NOTHING REAL ABOUT THIS,” and other blunt, honest phrases like “took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good. Would have hardly eaten that day.”


However, deleting her social media accounts doesn’t mean she has gone off the grid completely.


O’Neill created a blog soon after her social media outburst began. Within one day of the blog being created, she was back in the spotlight; this time with a message and raw material. Her blog, Lets Be Game Changers, expresses her opinions and truth behind her fame.


“I spent 12-16 wishing I could receive validation from numbers on a screen. I spent majority of my teen years being self-absorbed, trying desperately to please others and feel ‘enough’.  Spent 16-19 editing myself and life to be that beautiful, fitspo, positive, bright girl online.”


Explaining how she let a number both define and suffocate her, O’Neill is encouraging girls to stop comparing themselves to others and to find more meaning to life than a phone. She’s challenging young adults to, “go social media free for one week,” describing her experience as “real” and “beautiful.”


Her story has gained a lot of attention. Publications like the New York Times and Elite Daily are spreading her story, but with publicity comes opinions. Many people are criticizing her approach and describing it as solely a publicity stunt.


So what do we think? Being the main consumers of social media, we should know best. Do you think she’s doing this for the greater good? Or simply trying to re-create her public image?


When asked about Essena’s motive, sophomore Mackenzie Penrose said, “I think her motive is genuine. Why would she fake it when she probably lost all of her sponsors and no one new will ever want to hire her again?” O’Neill mentions brands paying her to promote clothing and swimwear, using them as credibility behind the “social media is fake” statements.


Aside from her motive, many people appreciate her courage to stand up and address an issue so many of us face today.


Sophomore Lauren Lanham explained, “You look at these photos and they’re not healthy for anyone. It gives this false idea of how girls are supposed to look and what they’re supposed to do. I think it’s great that she’s finally saying enough is enough.”


Sophomore Nick Darling said, “It’s messed up how so many people idolize these celebrities’ lives and want to be just like them, when the celebrities themselves don’t like the lives they have.”


Regardless of O’Neill’s motive, she is definitely addressing an issue that deserves to be discussed. Instead of focusing on Essena and her possible hidden agenda, the media needs to be focusing on the issues “instagram models” are causing. Girls are comparing themselves to what they think they need to be, equating their self esteem to the number of “likes” on their photos.


“Likes” shouldn’t determine how we’re viewing ourselves. And instagram models shouldn’t be our aspirations or #goals.